A conversation with the Song Doctor

Part of the Conversations Series, with Shirley Higgins-Croft

Though he is hardly a household name, Sir Eric Murray, the Song Doctor, (above) is a legend of the music industry. He has contributed as uncredited songwriter on more than fifty number one hits and has saved many well known songs from the discount rack of history.

Sir Eric met with Shirley Higgins-Croft over a malted milk at the Superstar Cafe in Atherton. It was a remarkable interview.

SHC: Greetings Sir Eric, what a pleasure it is to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time.

SD: Hello to you Shirley. I’m a fan of your work and am much looking forward to the chat as well.

SHC: Shall we start with your early life. Can you tell us a bit about how you became the phenomenon that is the Song Doctor?

SD: Well, that’s not easy, but I’ll try. Bred and born on the Tablelands. It was an idyllic childhood on the banks of Lake Quaid. Dad was a wastrel and a chancer. Mum was a waitress and part-time adulterer. Very loving upbringing. As a young bloke, I left school and was working in Tolga as an plasterer’s apprentice for my dad’s mate Barney. But I always dreamed of writing songs and rooting famous women, so as soon as I could afford it, I moved to Mareeba. Wow, what an experience. A fresh faced young fella in the big smoke. I had to learn fast. Got involved in the folk metal scene there and picked up some pretty strong chops in lyric building and song reconstruction. Did some gigolo freelancing which took me stateside with a certain Queen of Soul. When in New York I got my first big break as a copywriter for the Stratemeyer Syndicate before I moved on to A&R work for MCA records. The rest is history. Happy memories.

SHC: Do you remember your first big contribution as a Song Doctor?

SD: Look, my work with Sonny and Cher is well documented. But the first time I really felt like I was making a difference was when I spent weeks editing the piffle that Dylan came up with for Bringing It All Back Home. I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. Mr Tambourine Man, or Miss Ukelele Lady as it was originally called, is pretty much all my work, except for the boot-heel bit.

SHC: Wow! Who knew! Do you catch up with Bob these days?

SD: Well, we have a awkward relationship now. We had a mutual grass-cutting situation with Suze and Joan. And once he went electric-Christian the poetry dried up. I helped him out on Desire but by then the magic was almost gone.

SHC: So we know you have been doing some work with Delta. I was chatting with her over a skinny decaf espresso last week and she was telling me that you got into a tight spot with Christina Aguilera’s puppy. Tell me about that.

SD: (laughing) Yes, yes, that was a funny one. I had a little thing with Chrissie when I was a consultant on Stripped. Totally professional of course. Anyway, years later I got the call because RCA felt she needed a bit of help with her “Woohoo”. I was the obvious choice. When she first played it for me, I was really impressed with the narrative of the song. Really ambitious vision. I contributed one half-rhyme with close-to and supposed-to which worked quite well. But I was just not happy with her casting decisions. To me, the way she presented it to me, her “Woohoo” reeked of a catalog track. But Aggers decided to cover it herself and thus give her downstairs secret roomie the main role. I was flabbergasted. It really just didn’t scan. From personal experience, the carpet doesn’t match the drapes, and everything is out of place down there. The story-line would work well for JessJay or TayTay or even KayPer, but not for Chrissie. But she didn’t listen. The rest is history. “Woohoo” was a massive flop. And no one wants to cover it.

SHC: But what about the alleged incident with Chrissie’s dog?

SD: There’s nothing alleged about it, Shirley. It all happened exactly as recounted in the Washington Post. Chrissie was fixated on me not being a dog person, and not liking her “Woohoo”. You see, years earlier, I made the mistake of telling her that I once tried some some Jack Russell Gaejang-guk in Busan. Chewy, but very tasty. Mmmm. When I told her about it, I thought it was a harmless bit of pillow talk. She was immediately turned on in the doggiest of ways. But it seems she never forgot it. I think she internalised it and it festered into an obsession.

SHC: So, is it true that you had a brief sexual relationship with her dog?

SD: It’s all true. During the final Bionic sessions in the Luncheonette Studios, I was having a quiet wank in the control room when I was smashed from behind with a blunt object, and had a heart-crotched leotard shoved in my mouth. I passed out, and woke to find Nugget mounting my leg and Chrissie holding me down, laughing hysterically. I kicked Nugget in the balls, and there was a bit of a scuffle. Fortunately Sammy Dixon arrived and saved the day. Nuggs and I ended up in hospital and – get this – they put us in the same ward. Crazy awkward.

SHC: So, any hard feelings?

SD: Not at all, I wish Nugget the best. He had to have the full double orchi so we were both victims in that jamboree. I can say that Nuggs was a gentle lover. Can’t say the same about Chrissie.

SHC: Looking at the clock, it seems our time is almost up. It’d love to catch up again another time if you can manage it. Do you come back to Far North Queensland much these days?

SD: Rather! My heart is here and I like to support local artists where I can. I helped out Blayden on their track JayMay, and am expecting a call from them when they start their new album. They’re a couple of doughey pricks to be quite honest. And if JT ever wanted to put out a spoken word album or a hip hop symphony, I’d jump at the chance to do that. Top bloke, and pretty good on the beat-boxing.

SHC: So, until next time. Thanks Eric.

SD: Au revoir. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks Shirley.

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